Eckardt Scholar Raihan Alam ’23 creates a group dedicated to addressing tough sociocultural and political issues
San Francisco native Raihan Alam ’23 ran a Google search to find a liberal arts college far from home where he could gain independence, have quality instruction, and build relationships with professors, while not going into complete debt. His parents immigrated from Bangladesh and became U.S. citizens, and Alam knew that no matter where he went to college, he had to make the most of his opportunity.
“There’s been a little bit of pressure to do well in school given that I am a first-generation college student and need to make use of the hard work of my parents,” says Alam, whose father is a self-employed driver and his mother, a homemaker, recently took a part-time job to help with her son’s student loans.
One of the opportunities Alam pursued was accepting Lehigh’s invitation to join the highly selective Eckardt Scholars honors program in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). The program emphasizes intellectual curiosity, independent work, and close mentoring relationships between students and faculty. Dual majoring in psychology and political science, Alam arrived at Lehigh seeking forums or clubs that offered good faith, but difficult and honest dialogue about sociocultural and political issues. Not finding what he was looking for, he exhibited the attributes of an Eckardt Scholar--determination and leadership--and launched the Douglass Dialogues Club this fall while taking classes remotely from home because of the pandemic.
“I wanted a place where anyone who wanted to talk about important issues can just do that. The only thing that we preselect for is passionate, intellectual curiosity,” said Alam, who named the club after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who believed that free speech should grant people the right to be exposed to views and examine them in a respectful manner.
“Raihan's intellectual curiosity and willingness to explore complex questions from a variety of different perspectives exemplify the qualities we seek in Eckardt Scholars,” says Jenna Lay, associate professor of English and director of special programs in CAS. “In creating Douglass Dialogues and seeking to foster conversations about difficult and pressing issues with students from across the university, he is forging broad connections across disciplines and outside of the classroom.”
Alam has had great peer support in developing the club from an idea he originated during the summer to an operative club in September. Declan Coster ’23, an electrical engineering major with minors in entrepreneurship, computer science, and applied mathematics, holds the same appreciation for open discussion and is the club’s vice president. A member of the Undergraduate Student Senate, Coster is helping Alam navigate the process of getting the club recognized as an official student organization, which is hoped to be by the end of the fall semester. Club secretary and social media manager Julia Bebout ’21, an earth and environmental sciences and biological sciences major, coordinates club promotion and communicating with members.
Because many Lehigh students are attending fall classes remotely, Douglass Dialogues meets via Zoom every other Monday at 6:00 p.m. ET. The topics are decided upon democratically during the off week with Bebout sending out a Google form through GroupMe enlisting topic ideas from the 50+ participants. Subjects are voted on and the winner and supporting resources such as pro and con articles and YouTube videos are distributed prior to the discussion.